For complete PCAT success, you must answer as many questions correctly as possible in the time allotted. Knowing the content and question strategies is important but not enough; you also must hone your time-management skills so you have the opportunity to use those strategies on as many questions as possible. It’s one thing to answer a Critical Reading question correctly; it’s quite another to answer all 48 of them correctly in only 50 minutes. The same applies for the other sections; it’s a completely different experience to move from handling an individual passage or problem at leisure to handling a full section under timed conditions. Time is a factor that affects every test taker, and the good news is that you can quickly improve your scores by adhering to the following basic principles.
The Four Basic Principles of Test Timing
On some tests, if a question seems particularly difficult, you can spend significantly more time on it because you are given more points for correctly answering hard questions. This is not true on the PCAT. Every PCAT question, no matter how difficult, is worth a single raw point, and there’s no partial credit. Because you have so many questions to answer in very little time, you can seriously hurt your score by spending five minutes earning one point for a hard question and then not having time to get several quick points from easier questions later in the section.
Given this combination—limited time and all questions equal in weight—you must manage the test sections to ensure you earn as many points possible as quickly and easily as you can.
As described previously, keep in mind that the times per question or passage are only averages; some questions are bound to take less time, whereas others will take more. Try to stay balanced. Every question is of equal worth, so don’t get hung up on any one. Think about it: If a question is so hard that it takes you a long time to answer it, chances are you may get it wrong anyway. In that case, you’d have nothing to show for your extra time but a lower score.
Allow yourself approximately eight minutes per passage set, which includes reading a passage and answering the associated questions. On average, give yourself 3–4 minutes to read a passage and then 4–5 minutes to answer the eight corresponding questions. Some longer passages may take more time to read, but limit yourself to four minutes as a maximum so you have time to answer the questions, which are what actually contribute to your overall score.
Additionally, do the easiest passages first. This may mean avoiding topics that are extremely unfamiliar or passages that seem to include a lot of challenging vocabulary. For passage-based questions, choose an answer based only on the information given. Be careful not to overthink the question by inserting too much of your own logic. Passages might generate their own data. Your answer choices must be consistent with the information in the passage, even if that means an answer choice is inconsistent with the science of ideal, theoretical situations.
Biological Processes and Chemical Processes
The Biological Processes and Chemical Processes sections contain mixtures of discrete and passage-based questions, but the timing guidelines are the same throughout. Spend approximately two minutes reading each passage and 35 seconds on each question, whether associated with a passage or discrete. Note that this is significantly less time per passage than in Critical Reading, but the passages will be shorter, and there is less information you need to glean from each passage. Following the timing guidelines in these sections is essential since spending too much time on any one passage or question will quickly cause you to run out of time in the section.
Just like with Critical Reading, complete the easiest and fastest passages and questions first. This may mean heading straight for the discrete questions since they do not require the additional time of reading a passage. Note that, unlike in Critical Reading, outside information is useful and often required for science questions, but the correct answers still will not conflict with the passages.
Know also that you may not need a deep understanding of all the details of topic to be able to answer a question. Much of the information from the passage and even question stem may be extraneous. Don’t let yourself get slowed down by all of the facts; instead, paraphrase what is important so you can quickly begin earning points.
You have about 55 seconds for each Quantitative Reasoning question, which may initially seem luxurious compared with the other sections. However, the amount of math and other scratch work required for these questions necessitates spending longer on each, meaning that this section is just as restrictive on time as the others. Some questions will take more time and some less. Again, the rule is to do your best work first.